Last updated on October 29th, 2022 at 02:30 pm
It sounds funny to even be talking about feeling lat pulldowns in your chest.
However, if you’ve experienced this, you know it’s no laughing matter.
Granted, lat pulldowns are a lat exercise, so if you’re going to feel them anywhere it should be the lats.
That being said, there are of course many stabiliser muscles at work too.
However, you wouldn’t expect to feel a pull-based upper back exercise in your pecs.
So, what exactly is going on here?
Here’s Why You’re Feeling Lat Pulldowns in My Chest
This can occur from over retracting your shoulder blades. Furthermore, lat-focused exercises where your arms are overhead, such as pull ups and pulldowns, will stretch the pec minor. This can actually feel very uncomfortable if you have tight pec muscles.
1. You’ve Overdone Shoulder Retraction
One of the main cues when performing lat pulldowns is to retract your shoulder blades.
This simply means that you’re pulling your shoulder blades back and then down.
I liken it to trying to tuck your shoulder blades into your back pockets.
Then again, I also like to view it as trying to hold an imaginary tennis ball between the back of your shoulder blades.
Basically, “scapula retraction”, as it’s known, places the shoulders in a far more stable position.
And I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how painful on the shoulders certain exercises can be.
That being said, you can actually overdo scapula retraction, and literally pull your shoulder blades too far back and down.
As soon as you do this you’ll create a greater stretch in your shoulders and certain parts of the chest.
And this will explain why you’re feeling an upper back exercise in your chest.
So, by all means use scapula retraction, as this is good form and can protect your shoulders.
But, don’t overdo it.
2. You’re Stretching the Pec Minor
Okay, I’ve just mentioned that “certain parts of your chest” are stretched during scapula retraction.
Well, it just so happens that whenever you place your arms overhead you are stretching the pec minor.
We are much more used to concentrating on the larger chest muscle, the pec major, when it comes to training.
However, there is a much smaller muscle, the pec minor, directly below the pec major.
And as I say, this muscle is stretched whenever you have your arms overhead.
So, when you add the additional stress of pulling a heavy load down from up above your head, this automatically stretches the pec minor even more.
Furthermore, you can actually increase pec stimulation depending on the placement of your hands.
Too close together and you are literally squeezing the pecs together.
Too far apart and you are stretching serratus anterior and pec minor muscles even more.
Fun Fact: People often complain that they can feel PUSH-based exercises, such as bench press and push ups, in their lats. This is usually the serratus anterior muscle, which is often referred to as the “most neglected muscle”.
Not that there’s anything wrong with close-grip or wide-grip lat pulldowns.
However, if you’re feeling lat pulldowns in your chest, this is definitely something you should be wary of.
3. You Have Tight Chest Muscles
The final reason for this strange phenomenon simply comes down to potentially having tight chest muscles.
There are a number of explanations for tight chest muscles, although the most obvious is due to a lack of balance in your training.
Let’s face facts, the chest is probably one of the most trained muscles in the gym, and the bench press is probably the most popular exercise.
However, if you’re not counterbalancing this with adequate upper back and lat training, this could lead to a muscle imbalance.
Plus, it’s likely to leave your chest muscles very tight.
In truth, you should generally be performing twice as many pull-based exercises as push-based.
But, if you’re completely honest with yourself, this probably isn’t the case.
You can of course “loosen” those tight chest muscles through regular stretching and foam rolling.
However, I would also suggest that you focus much more on upper back and lat exercises as well.
Obviously, lat pulldowns are a great start, but you’ll want to incorporate rows and a variety of other fantastic pull-based exercises too.
FUN FACT: If your torso is vertical for a pull-based exercise, e.g. lat pulldowns, you are working on back WIDTH. If your torso is horizontal for a pull-based exercise, e.g. rows, you are working on back THICKNESS.
Stop Stretching Your Pecs Like This
As you can see, the main reasons for feeling lat pulldowns in your chest are:
- Over retracting your shoulder blades
- The pec minor is stretched when your arms are overhead
- You have tight pec muscles
So, as you can see, these are fairly simple explanations.
Firstly, be aware of exactly how far you’re pulling your shoulder blades back, and make sure you don’t overdo it.
Secondly, your pec minor muscles will always be stretched when your arms are overhead.
And this stretch can actually be greater depending on your hand position on the lat pulldown bar.
Finally, this could be a sign of overtraining your push-based muscles, thus causing tightness in the chest area.
You can fix this through regular stretching, foam rolling, and more concentration on working the muscles of the upper back.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.